I crossed the border into China easily enough,but could not for the life of me find the bus station. Eventually just as I was drawing a picture of a bus to a taxi driver (he still didn't understand me!) a girl on a moped came to my rescue and even helped me buy my ticket! Then while I was waiting with a juice and two Japanese men thought they would talk to me and after that a 20 year old Chinese Vetinary student wanted to practice his English. He was about to spend a month in Vietnam and then Singapore and Kuala Lumpur before heading back to finish his studies.Then he was going to the US for 10 months to study agriculture as it is hard to do that in China. He said it is possible to finish your studies much quick than the four years if you study hard, so that is why he was on holidays and his friends were still studying! I think he must be super brainy. He seemed fixated with the idea that people in the countryside should be vastly different to those in the cities as they are in China and I said there is not much difference in England. I don't think he could quite come to terms with the idea that I was from the countryside. He also took me to a famous 'red light district' above a market which I would have had no idea that it existed. He wanted to take me as he was curious but did not want to get dragged into taking part as it t'wer. It did not seem very seedy to me, just some massage parlours with quite well dressed women working in them and some men having head massages. Obviously stuff happens behind the scenes but I could not see that and nobody appeared to be on drugs. Anyway I took the sleeper bus to Kunming which I could not sleep on at all. There are a lot of stories of theft (usually someone cuts through your bag and removes your cash) and though I always sleep with my money belt on, I was still worried about them somehow taking that while I was asleep. Also the roads were terrible and I was bounced around on the bed which I could not extend fully on. In addition everyone smokes inside the bus during the trip despite the numerous rest stops. So I was shattered and hadn't got a clue where to go or what to do when I arrived at the bus station (currently being built so more of a car park) in the pitch black at 6am. Nobody spoke a word of English, but luckily two ladies who were running a minibus packed me off to a central hotel. There I asked if I could use the phone, which apparently I could not. Around the corner I found a much friendlier hotel where I was able to call my couchsurfing host and while waiting for him to pick me up, I exchanged hello's with a friendly 2 year old girl. Gang Zhao has put me up in what used to be his apartment but now he lives with his wife. He is an English teacher and speaks excellent English. He took me on a tour of the city showing me what little is left of the old buildings and also to try the local specialty 'across the bridge noodles' where you are served a hot soup and some side dishes of meat and veg and noodles, and essentially you cook it yourself. Food certainly seems to be cheap here and I have been eating in street cafe's for about 80p for a large meal (portions are bigger in China which is a relief after Vietnamese portions!). Since being here I have come across the written about Chinese animosity towards foreigners. Many people stare in a quite unfriendly way and also I was turned away from one noodle restaurant with a simple 'no'. However, in contrast there have been super friendly people who have helped me out of difficult situations.
Overall Kunming is a pleasant 'spring city' (apparently it is permanently spring like and the trees never lose their leaves. But it has big city roads and freeways which were quite intimidating to me coming from Vietnam. What is nice though, is that everyone cycles on electric motorbikes so it is much quieter and less polluted than much of Vietnam.
Also while here I presented a talk about my travels and research at Yunnan University in Kunming for Gang Zhao's English students. This went well but had to be mostly translated by Gang Zhao as Chinese students learn English to pass exams not to be good at understanding or speaking. Thank you very much to Becky who at the last minute sent me many photos downloaded from my blog in Australia, thanks to you I had something to talk about!
|Chinese border with Vietnam|
|The apartment block where I am staying|
|Yunnan University buildings with people performing Tai Chi in front|
|Yunnan University building. It is in a french style because the head of the university had studied in France|
An old chinese herbalist's store
|They sell turtles and rabbits here|
|The Golden Temple|
|West Lake Park|
|The freeway near the apartment where I stayed|
|A late night Chinese market |